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Coup Trial Kicks Off in Turkey 17 décembre 2014

Posted by Acturca in Istanbul, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Wall Street Journal Europe (USA) Wednesday, December 17, 2014, p. 7

By Joe Parkinson and Emre Peker

Istanbul — Turkish soccer fans who participated in antigovernment protests last year went on trial Tuesday, charged with plotting a coup, in the latest sign of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown against his political opponents.

Besiktas fans, holding a flag of their soccer club in Istanbul, protest the trial of 35 of their colleagues who took part in antigovernment protests in Gezi Park in 2013.

Thirty-five people are facing life in prison if convicted of trying to remove the government through violence and force during the June 2013 Gezi Park protests. Most of the defendants are members of the Carsi— a group of die-hard and raucous fans from Istanbul club, Besiktas. They denied the charges.

Fans carrying banners with the Carsi logo—with its characteristic anarchy-style A—marched to the Istanbul courthouse in solidarity with the accused, shouting slogans and lighting flares. Opposition lawmakers and 100 attorneys attended the trial’s first day, a chaotic hearing where some of the defendants and lawyers wore black-and-white Besiktas jerseys.

“If we had the power to carry out a coup, we would make Besiktas the champion,” joked Cem Yakiskan, one of Carsi’s leaders, after the court read the charges at the hearing Tuesday. The club hasn’t won a league title since 2009.

The start of the trial comes just two days after Turkish police detained 27 people, including the editor of Turkey’s largest-selling newspaper, also on charges of seeking to overthrow Mr. Erdogan’s government. The Carsi case adds to hundreds of proceedings against thousands of protesters, journalists and other dissidents, a broadening legal trend that rights activists and opposition lawmakers warn is helping Mr. Erdogan muzzle dissent and centralize power at the expense of the rule of law.

“Charging these Besiktas football club fans as enemies of the state for joining a public protest is a ludicrous travesty,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It reveals a great deal about the enormous pressure being exerted on Turkey’s justice system by the government.”

Besiktas’s fan group Carsi— whose name is a homage to the bazaar in the working-class Istanbul neighborhood where the club is based—was at the forefront of 2013 demonstrations against Mr. Erdogan and coined a number of colorful antigovernment slogans.

During the demonstrations, Carsi fans hijacked a construction excavator to chase an armored police vehicle, turning them into heroes for some protesters and leading to the detention of 22 people. Prosecutors said the group attempted to seize the prime minister’s Istanbul office, listing gas masks, flares and hand guns as evidence in their indictment.

“It’s a baseless trial, a comedy staged by the government. Over the years, the Carsi group has led the charge on many social issues, not just Gezi,” said a 51-year-old Besiktas fan, referring to the park where the protests kicked off last year. “If our friends are punished, rule of law in Turkey will be definitively damaged.”

Carsi said the group acts with its conscience, listing a string of social projects from blood donations to building schools; a campaign against nuclear power; its push to eradicate racism from sports; and efforts to rescue stray animals. The group’s attorney said the fans deny the charges and that they acted within the law to “draw attention to the excessive use of force against society.”

In the past two years, Ankara has responded to protests and a sprawling corruption case targeting Mr. Erdogan’s key allies by overhauling the judiciary to centralize power and passing sweeping security legislation that has raised concern from Washington and Brussels about the rule of law.

Turkey’s main-opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, said Tuesday that it would ask the Constitutional Court to overturn a law that expanded police powers by lowering search requirements to “reasonable suspicion.” Mr. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, pushed the legislation through parliament in early December, and it went into effect Friday.

The president’s critics said Mr. Erdogan seeks to deploy bolstered security measures to crack down on political rivals before June general elections. They point to Sunday’s raids against the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U. S.- based Turkish cleric whose decadelong alliance with Mr. Erdogan collapsed last year amid a power struggle.

Mr. Erdogan on Monday defended the weekend detentions as a necessary step to catch traitors, dismissing criticism from the European Union as meddling in his country’s affairs. The president says Gulen supporters in the judiciary tried to oust him with fabricated graft charges in December, 2013, after the imam’s network failed to topple the government with nationwide demonstrations. The corruption cases have since been dismissed, and Mr. Gulen denies the accusations.

“Gezi was a coup attempt, they didn’t succeed,” Mr. Erdogan said Friday.

Turkey’s government has repeatedly said that protesters who damage public property and groups that sow political instability will be held accountable.

The Besiktas fans’ trial isn’t the first time Mr. Erdogan has sought to purge dissent from the soccer field. In August last year, Besiktas fans were made to sign a pledge when buying season tickets that they would refrain from participating in chants during matches that could “trigger mass, political or ideological events.”

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